Seven Lessons Learned by a Cop without a Badge

Seven Lessons Learned by a Cop without a Badge

Eight months ago, just before the effective date of my resignation from my former employer, I was injured in the line of duty. The injury seemed relatively minor, nothing more than a tweaked wrist on my dominate side. The worker’s comp doctor assured me it was just a deep bone bruise and nothing to worry about. I went through with my resignation and moved 1800 miles across the country in a leap of faith to join my now-wife in her home state.

After being in Arizona for a couple of months, the wrist still hadn’t healed. I contacted worker’s comp, and they found a local specialist to send me to see. Two days before a scheduled PT test with a department out here I learned that my wrist had a torn ligament that would require surgery and nine months of recovery. Knowing that no agency would hire me if they found out how much light duty I would need over my first year, I had no choice but to drop out of the hiring process. I suppose I could’ve kept it to myself, gotten the job, then told them after, but as a police officer integrity is paramount. That was never really an option.

Fast forward a few months, and I still haven’t had the surgery. I’ve decided to establish myself in another profession, one I can handle in a cast to the shoulder, and then get my wrist fixed so that I can support my family while I’m down. I’m likely sidelined for at least another year before I can pin on a badge, if I ever can again. After being a cop most all of my adult life, experiencing life away from law enforcement has led me to some real revelations. Here are a few:

1. There is life absent police work

I thought policing was my life, that I would never be whole or happy without it. That’s not true.   I don’t need a badge to be happy. It was and is a very important and influencing part of who I am. It is not all I am, though. It never has been. I had lost sight of that, I think. I’m not just a cop. I am a husband, a son, a brother. Those things are so much more important than being a cop. If and when I return to the job, it is my vow not to forget that.

2. Hypervigilance is exhausting

It took a few months, but I’m no longer constantly looking over my shoulder. My eyes don’t scan quite as much as they used to do. Not every person that walks through the door is first considered a threat before a friend. Don’t get me wrong, my head isn’t in the sand or anything, but I’ve noticed a decrease in my level of over-alertness. It has been refreshing to say the least. Feeling relaxed more than I feel alert is pretty good. Foreign and weird, but good. I glance at the door now when someone walks in as opposed to sizing them up. My shoulders are less tense. I laugh so much more. My guard is still never really down, but I do lower it some.

3. I sleep better

I still only need five or six hours of sleep. That’s just who I’ve always been. The sleep is more restful now, though. I don’t awaken feeling tired. The bags under my eyes have gone away. My eyelids don’t get heavy, and I don’t drink five cups of coffee a day anymore to stay alert. Even when I find reason to stay awake through the night, I don’t really need an extra kick to make that happen.   It is amazing what good sleep will do for you.

4. No one spits in my food

It’s not even a concern. I don’t think about it. I don’t worry about it. I treat food service workers with respect, and give them no reason to dislike or hate me. Even if they are anti-police, I’m in a new state where no one knows me. I am an anonymous face, and I don’t wear a flashy uniform that invites people to hate me just because of it. I don’t even check my food for spit anymore! How crazy is that?

5. Excitement is extremely hard to come by

After twelve years in law enforcement, I’ve seen and done some crazy things. You guys know what I’m talking about. Where most people get their occasional adrenaline dump from someone nearly sideswiping them or witnessing a bar fight, that kind of thing barely makes us raise an eyebrow. It takes something pretty significant to get our blood flowing, and the chances of me getting that now are all but nil. It sort of sucks, to be honest. I guess I’ll have to take up skydiving.

6. There aren’t as many stupid people in the world as I thought there were

When you deal primarily with criminals and ne’er-do-wells day in and day out, year in and year out, you begin to think that all of society is stupid. It’s not. Most of the smart people are too busy taking care of their families, putting food on the table, and making a good life for themselves to do dumb things that get the police called. When you stop working with the dregs of society and start rubbing elbows with successful people, you realize that there are a lot of really intelligent people who do really well for themselves out there. This is going to come as a huge shock to you, but good, hardworking, intelligent people outweigh those you routinely deal with by a pretty wide margin. It’s not even close.

7. The pull of brotherhood is strong

I don’t talk to the guys as much as I’d like to talk to them. It’s not their fault. I don’t call them as much as I should. Even when we do talk, it isn’t the same. “How’s the weather in Arizona?” isn’t nearly as fun a question to answer as “Did that guy really literally shit his pants when you hooked him?” The men and women I worked with and I formed bonds of blood, sweat, and tears. We were tested in ways most people aren’t. We fought together, against the criminals, the outside world and certain segments of the department (cough *admin* cough). When it seemed that everyone hated us, we still had each other. There is nothing like that connection in the civilized world. The thin blue line is a real and powerful thing. I miss it.

All in all, I’ve enjoyed my time away. I’ve had some new adventures, read a good book or two (not really, but I’ve really done some damage on Netflix), and convinced a wonderfully beautiful woman to be my wife. I’ve made new friends that I’m sure will be friends for life. My batteries are recharged, and if I decide to go back, I’ll be better because of it. If I don’t, I’ll have memories few people have, and I’ll always have a story to tell. I don’t regret a minute of being a cop, but I’m not devastated about not being one either. I honestly don’t know which path I’ll choose, but I’ll be okay either way, which is a really good thing to know. For those of you out there on watch while I’m away, try to be safe, but if you cannot be safe, win.

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  • Brother I see the same things…. but there is the longing to always be in the middle of the fray. The loss of the commodore, the sense of purpose and the drive that you have just before going on watch. But the worst thing is the feeling that you have let your people down….. that all those that you care for would have been just that more,“safer” if you had gone in….. This is the worst thing that we LE officers feel when we can no longer do what we do, and it is a horrible emptiness. That can never be filled. There is always one more step,day thing or oversight that we could have fixed.

    Berl Goff
  • I, too, am retired after 25 years as a street cop in Radio Patrol Division. Like the author, I too moved out of state immediately upon my retirement. It’s a big adjustment getting used to life as a civilian again, but the anonymity of living in a new place actually allows you to reinvent yourself without people judging you based on any preconceived ideas of what you used to do for a living. Like “Jiggs” said, a “rebirth”.

    The only thing I really do miss, is the camaraderie that we shared as brothers in blue. That’s the only negative for me. Otherwise, retirement rocks!

    Gregory Alan
  • I’ve been retired for a full year now after 35 years in Law Enforcement. Two as 911 Dispatcher and 33 as a street cop.

    Your article is spot on. After spending 2/3 of my life in this crazy profession it’s a refreshing change looking at things from the outside. It’s almost like being re-born.

    It’s taken almost a full year toget used to it, and I know I still have some negativity to let go of, however, the sad part is realizing just how much of life I’ve missed out on.


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